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Blundellsands actor Gemma on her 'gift' of a role at the Everyman

Gemma Brodrick is sharing a dressing room at the Liverpool Everyman this autumn – and she couldn’t be happier.

That could be because her (dressing)roomie is Josie Lawrence.

“I adore Josie,” Brodrick enthuses about the Black Country-born actor and comedian. “She’s so funny and we’re having such a laugh."

Lawrence rose to fame in the late 1980s on the hit TV improv series Whose Line is it Anyway? and it appears she still keeps her hand in.

Brodrick laughs: “She allows me to shout one musical style and a word each day at her and she sings me a little song!”

Of course Lawrence’s character in Our Lady of Blundellsands, Jonathan Harvey’s new play which has returned to the Everyman stage after an 18-month (Covid) hiatus, is equally as adept at spinning fantastical yarns.

The story revolves around two middle-aged sisters, the fragile Sylvie (Lawrence) and stoic Garnet (Joanne Howarth), who live in a shabby house full of secrets on the Sefton coast, and how over one dramatic 24-hour period those secrets start to come tumbling out.

Brodrick plays Alyssa, the girlfriend of Sylvie’s youngest son Lee Lee, a young woman with absolutely no filter.

“I’d probably say she’s the most fun character I’ve ever played – it’s the thing I’ve got the most enjoyment out of," the Liverpool actor reveals.

“There’s a lot to her. The comedy with her comes from pure honesty. She’s so direct, she’ll just say what she’s thinking with no side to her; she’s not manipulative or cruel. It’s just about completely being that girl who literally says, if you walk in and you look a bit fat in that dress, she’ll say that. And that’s so fun to play.

Above and top: Gemma Brodrick as Alyssa in Our Lady of Blundellsands. Photos by Mark Brenner.

“A lot of the time people say they enjoy playing people who are horrible, but I think to play somebody so open, so humble, so wide eyed and direct, it’s such a gift.

“I’m very aware that all the lines I’ve got are a gift.”

Brodrick is one of three returning cast members who appeared in the original run last spring which was brought to a juddering halt by the first lockdown.

This time around they are joined by three new faces, and the actor says when they got into the rehearsal room the trio of Blundellsands veterans were keen not to recreate the previous production but to ‘rediscover’ the play.

“It was lovely to rediscover it,” she says. “I think the three of us (Brodrick, Lawrence and Nathan McMullen who plays Lee Lee) have found more of a depth to it coming back because I think the first time you do something it’s brand new and you’re a bit bamboozled by it.

“We have had time to sit on it for a year-and-a-half and come back to it and find things we didn’t find before. It’s a bit darker this time actually. Which we quite like.”

The Italia Conti-trained actor came to the first version of the play from a national tour of Blood Brothers, where she played Donna Marie and Mrs Lyons, and before that she was in Cilla the Musical, playing Pauline and understudying the Scottie Road songbird.

Along with the tours’ stops at the Empire, her ‘home’ performances include Yellow Breck Road and Lost Soul 2 at the Royal Court and, going back in time, Beside the Seaside at the Unity and Red Riding Hood at the old Liverpool Actors’ Studio Theatre.

Our Lady of Blundellsands is her first time on the Everyman stage, first time working with Jonathan Harvey and first time she’s been directed by Nick Bagnall.

Brodrick (centre) and fellow cast members in rehearsals

“I’d loved to have been in the Everyman Rep Company,” she says wistfully, “but I was on tour, so I missed being able to audition.”

Like others in the industry for whom, as Brodrick says, theatre is their “bread and butter”, the last 18 months have been incredibly hard. She initially thought the shutdown would last six weeks.

“And then I was meant to be going out on tour, we had a run with Cilla, and I was meant to be going back on that so I was thinking – you know what, at least I’ve got a job in September, everything will be over by September.

“Then September came and went, and then I’d set up a Christmas theatre job and that got cancelled. So honestly, Our Lady of Blundellsands coming back is the best thing that could have happened to me.”

Lockdown wasn’t completely wasted however – she wrote ‘some cabaret’ which she is yet to do anything with.

So if not the cabaret, what next after this run closes? Brodrick says she’s waiting on news a possible job, details of which she’s keeping under her hat, but admits she would also “love to go back on TV next.

“I did TV, and then I did theatre for a long time so that it means you’re always busy and never available,” she says. “I’d love a little sitcom role. My first job out of drama school was a sitcom with Harry Enfield (Sex and the Chippy for Lime Pictures).”

For now, she’s very happy to be making nightly trips to Blundellsands…and testing her dressing room-mate’s improv skills.

She smiles: “It might be Rodgers and Hammerstein tonight.”

Our Lady of Blundellsands is at the Liverpool Everyman until October 9. Read a review HERE


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